The Obscurer

Month: June, 2007

Taking The Piss

As unsung heroes go, I can’t think of a better example than “that bloke” who one day came up with the idea of placing reading matter in front of the urinals in pubs. How did we ever spend our time before? Stare into space, or at porcelain, or at our bits? Some (though not me) would of course engage in a wee game of “compare and contrast”. But now, while we slash, we can read half of the lead story in yesterday’s Telegraph; then, our ablutions completed, we can loiter awkwardly, trying to skim read the rest of the article; that is until someone else enters the bogs, so we slowly wash our hands, dry them on the hot air dryer (which keeps cutting out on us as our hands move away from the enigmatically placed sensor) waiting for the other person to leave so we can continue our read; and then a second person arrives and so we finally give up and exit the toilets (the hot air dryer that kept cutting before out is now stuck on permanently once our hands are not only out of the way, but in a different room) and we resolve to read the rest of the article on our next trip to the toilet (not far away; we’ve already drunk six pints); but the next time we go to the toilet that specific urinal is in use, so we decide to finish off the article by reading it on the internet when we get home; but by then we are far too drunk and we forget all about it.

That is why, much as I like newspapers in toilets, the theory is flawed and so adverts can be a better choice. At the John Millington a few weeks ago, for example, I read a sign advertising the forthcoming (yes, forthcoming; I hate the word upcoming) events at the pub. One was for their Fathers’ Day extravaganza, and as someone who will play the fool for any excuse to go out for a meal, I was obviously interested. Problem; the John Millington does not allow children under the age of six years into their pub. Fair enough; their house, their rules. Though I must say I was tempted to phone them and explain just how taken I was with their offer, that I would love to join them for their Fathers’ Day festivities. But I can’t. Because I am a father.

Below the Fathers’ Day adverts was a second item explaining the changes the pub was in the process of making to their beer garden to enlarge, cover and heat the outside drinking area; it wasn’t explicit but I assume it was to make ready for the smoking ban that starts in England tomorrow. You may recall that I have written on the subject before, when I stated that I considered the action somewhat draconian, and that a compromise could surely be found to prevent an outright ban on smoking.

But I’m afraid it’s happened again; I start off as a qualified critic of a proposal but then when I hear the obnoxious views of it’s more vocal opponents I quite unfairly swing round and decide that the new idea deserves far more merit. Because I understand smokers being peeved by the new laws; they want to smoke in the pub and are being prevented from doing so, and if that were all then I can and will sympathise. I can see why they are vexed. It is the further inappropriate invoking of the issue of civil liberties that annoys me and which has shifted my viewpoint. The argument goes that it is our individual freedom to do as we wish and for some people to smoke if they like. Fine; but civil liberties only allow you to do as you wish so long as your actions don’t affect others. Smoking does affect others, be it passive smoking, stinging eyes or stinking clothes. So that is that…next!

Just because it has traditionally been non-smokers who have been inconvenienced by smokers doesn’t make it right. Perhaps it is time to redress that historical imbalance. It is a poor reason to change ones mind, but once again I feel my liberal position has been challenged by those people – in this case thoughtless smokers – who talk about freedom but who evidently don’t give a damn about the freedoms of others. As it is, every few Fridays I go out with Mike to the Kenilworth. Neither of us being smokers, we sit in the No Smoking area. It makes no difference, by midnight the whole place is awash with smoke and our clothes, hair and skin stink of the stuff; and I don’t know about you, but for me bath night isn’t until Sunday. So, while I previously questioned the smoking ban, as it appears in the headlights I can honestly say that I can’t wait.

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Legacy Media

Every Prime Minister loves a legacy – why else would you want the hassle of the job unless you fancied your portrait on the stairs of Number 10 and your name in the history books – and I’ve been wondering about political legacies recently, what with Blair having finally done one, and the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War dragging Margaret Thatcher back into peoples’ minds. Just what did our more recent leaders actually leave us in their wills? Well here is my post on the matter; short on analysis, long on bias, an incomplete and far from exhaustive trip around the subject, more an outlet for me to chuck ideas in the air and against the wall to see if they are ready to stick, like al-dente pasta, and to get my mind back into this blogging malarkey.

Thatcher first; because listening to some you would think that her legacy was to have almost sole responsiblity for the relatively buoyant state of the current British economy; for some it seems that just about everything good in the world can be traced back to her iconoclastic premiership. You won’t be too surprised to find that I disagree with this point of view. It is not that she was wholly wrong on everything, just mainly wrong on most things. I like the analogy (and I hope you like it too) of someone being stuck in the house and needing to buy some bread. If someone were to suggest that you get up off your arse and open the front door then they would be spot on; but if they then directed you to the butcher’s, rather than to the baker’s, then they’ve not really helped you all that much. Sure, they’ve forced you to get a bit of fresh air, and by wandering aimlessly, or asking around, you may eventually find your way to the baker’s yourself; but who should take the credit for this eventual happy outcome? In effect I think that is what Thatcher did; even when she was right she was wrong. And most of the time she was just plain wrong.

So; she was right to challenge the unions (and other vested interests), but wrong to bully them and use them as her personal whipping boys; she was right to offer up privatisation as a solution, but wrong to indulge in ill-conceived and poorly executed sell-offs for the sake of ideology and/or financial expediency; it may have been right to promote home ownership, but to force councils to all but give away their housing stock as part of a policy of social engineering, and to then hinder their replacement, was bollocks. And if that latter move was a way to inculcate people into the ways of property rights rather than state dependency then it was completely undone by Thatcher’s economic policy that shrugged off mass, long-term unemployment as just one of those things, so forcing a generation and their children to regard social security benefits and the welfare state not as a safety net but as an essential, primary source of income, and so a viable way of living.

Andrew Neil on This Week recently wondered if there was a change in the air with regards Thatcher; that perhaps she was being re-evaluated, that her achievements were gaining more appreciation and recognition. Wishful thinking I suspect. For a start, even when in power she was never quite the universal hate figure you would imagine from viewing grainy archive footage of Red Wedge concerts. Amongst a large section of the population she was enormously popular during her period in office; add to this group all of the people aged 25 or under who can’t really remember her, and also the fact that she has been out of power for 17 years, and it isn’t that surprising that there is less animosity towards her than there used to be. This doesn’t mean that those who opposed her at the time are suddenly affording her more respect, have forgiven her or altered their opinion of her. In any case; even if you can point to some good things that she did, now that her government is but a dot in the rear view mirror, and if you can accept that she has bequeathed us all some long-term benefits, it still doesn’t mean we have erased from our minds what it was like to actually have that rabble in power, day-in-day-out, and to live under the rule of a bunch of authoritarian, reactionary bigots.

It was John Major who had to deal with Thatcher’s immediate legacy – a dysfunctional economy, just one more Tory recession – and by hook, crook, luck and judgement actually turned it around. That is to his government’s credit. Even more important is that he then successfully lost the 1997 election before he was able to bugger things up in turn, as I am sure he would have done. That is his lasting legacy; to have presided over a reasonably benign economic situation and to have then fucked off before he fucked it up.

And so to Blair; what has he left us? Well on the plus side there has been continued economic stability (more Brown’s achievement than Blair’s), some constitutional reforms (inherited from John Smith, and in the case of the House of Lords Blair has acted more as a brake than an accelerator), and of course Northern Ireland (although has he actually done more than any previous Prime Minister, or have things just happened on his watch? And am I the only one to feel uneasy about seeing Paisley and McGuinness grinning together at Stormont?) But I think it will be for his failures, rather than his successes, that we will remember Blair by; it goes without saying that he will mainly be associated with Iraq and spin.

For a while it looked as if Blair could escape the rigours of domestic politics to emerge statesmanlike in the black-and-white simplicity of foreign affairs, through Sierra Leone and Kosovo; that is until Iraq turned around and bit him on the arse. Blair’s name will be forever entwined with the conflict as Eden’s is with Suez, or LBJ’s is with Vietnam. To seek refuge in war from the failings of your domestic policies is an act of pure horror, and Blair’s ultimate failure will at least make others think twice. Regarding spin and media manipulation, and his abilities as an actor; these are all things that are no doubt required in the modern politician’s armoury, but they are not good things for a politician to be closely associated with. Blair is indeed feted, if that is the right word, as a fine actor; but as an actor he makes a really great politician. His “act” is often so transparent that he appears about as sincere as Fiona Bruce, as convincing as an extra on Casualty. When you watch the great actors you don’t think “what a great actor”, you believe in them implicitly; but with Blair we knew we were getting an act, and we were wise to it. We will now watch out more keenly for the same thing in Brown, Cameron and other politicians; and that is a surely good thing.

But it is one particular failure in the whole spin farrago that I believe is in fact Blair’s greatest success. It was probably true, after the 1992 election, that Labour had to work hard to get the press on their side, and they managed it; even the Daily Mail clambered aboard. Today of course the Mail views itself as almost the official opposition to government, representing a silent majority in the country ignored by the political parties; but things were not always this way. Back during the Thatcher years the Mail was right in step with government policy, their brand of narrow-minded intolerance was perfectly in tune with those whose hands were on the levers of power. Instead the targets of the Mail’s ire were loony lefty councils and the like; the inequities of central government went unchallenged. After Thatcher, eventual disillusion with the then Major government that was “in office but not in power” and a vested interest in supporting the government-elect Labour Party that promised to be just like the Tories led the Mail to swing behind Blair; but once in government the honeymoon period soured when the Mail realised that Labour, for all their faults, weren’t quite as twattish as the Tories. So it is that today, in contrast to the tub-thumping of the Thatcher years, the hurt disappointment of the Major years, and the naïve hopes of the early Blair years, the Mail has settled into a vehement hatred of and implacable opposition to the government; and that is surely how it should always be. Those furious red-faced and indignant little/middle Englanders should always be out of power, should always feel antagonised by whatever the government proposes; never again should the government manifesto and the Daily Mail editorial have anything in common. Blair’s greatest legacy is that Daily Mail readers, far from being the self-styled silent majority they claim to be, are in reality just marginalised malcontents. Let us not squander his inadvertant achievement; and while Brown is a dour Scot who clobbers the middle classes with stealth taxes, while Cameron hugs hoodies, huskies and haters of grammar schools, and while Menzies Campbell is a Liberal Democrat, at least on this one small thing the future still looks bright.

Back To The Old House

Remember me? Just a quick word to those who care to say that I’m back from my extended jaunt, where along the way I sampled many of the regional dishes of these fair isles; Cornish pasties (obviously), macaroni pies (ubiquitous in Scotland, seemingly) and Cumberland sausages (in butty form, following a sneaky trip to the Lakes for lunch on our way home). I am now approaching the size of house, whereas at the start of my break I was merely the size of a holiday cottage. Time to think about dieting. Again.

I’ll spare you the slide show. Not that we have too many pictures of golden beaches; we only got one really good week of sun out of the four we were away, but that’s fair enough if you are holidaying in Britain (that global warming we hear so damn much about can go and get a bloody move on). But I will show you just one picture, as a request for assistance.

I mean; what the blinking flip is this? We unwittingly received it from Burger King at Exeter services, where I bought a “Dark Whopper” for myself and a Spiderman meal for my son (the Dark Whopper was very average, but the description featured black pepper somewhere in it; my Achilles heel, and so the marketing men hauled me in like a grateful mackerel). So clearly it must be some character from the new Spiderman 3 movie; but what? And why has whatever it is been dismembered and put atop an HGV (where I think he is supposed to spin around as the vehicle moves forward, except the mechanism doesn’t seem to work)? Frankly I am as baffled as my son was scared. Answers on a seaside postcard please; or just uses the comments facility below.

Anyway; normal service will be resumed soon enough; i.e. I’ll probably write fuck all now for another few weeks. See you soon?